Italian Cooking School: Move Over Giada

Cecilia-- the real deal!
One of the highlights of our stay in Umbria was a night of cooking school with our hostess/instructor Cecilia. We (the group of fourteen women who had traveled from the United States to spend a week in an Umbrian villa on the grounds of Le Velette winery) all gathered around the kitchen table to absorb her cooking wisdom and try to learn how to make an authentic Italian dinner from scratch.  The first dish we learned about roughly translates to turkey meatloaf.  This wasn't your school lunch meatloaf.   We would later confirm after eating the fruits of our cooking endeavors, this was the best meatloaf any of us had ever had.

Polpettone (Turkey Meatloaf)
The recipe was taught using grams and ratios. To quote Cecilia, our cooking instructor, "It's a more or less thing."

Betsy and Gabi
  • 2/3 turkey or 500 grams (approx 2 pounds)
  • 1/3 ricotta cheese or 300 grams (approx 1 pound)
  • 3 TBS of nutmeg or to taste (Cecilia was generous)
  • 4 eggs or the ratio of every 200 grams meat & cheese add an egg (or more if it's too solid)
  • 1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese (Or for every 1000 kilos add 150 grams of shredded parmesan cheese). She used Parmigiano-Reggiano don't use Romano (it's too salty)
  • Salt- to taste the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is quite salty so don't over salt
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (for every 1,000 grams 150 grams)
  • 2 cups extra virgin olive oil (Le Velette makes their own)
  • 6 cups milk + more to add while cooking if necessary 
  • 1 lb prosciutto thick slices
  1. Place the meat in a large mixing bowl.  Drain the ricotta cheese and add it to the bowl with the meat. 
  2. Next add the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to the bowl
  3. Crack the eggs into the bowl
  4. Add nutmeg and salt to taste
  5. Mix ingredients in bowl with hands until well blended (Cecilia recommends channeling someone you're really mad at to give you inspiration)
  6. If mixture seems to solid, add another egg
  7. Mold into loaves and wrap with 4-5 strips of proscuitto until loaf is completely wrapped up.
  8. Put 2-3 loafs into a large saucepan and completely cover with a mixture of 2/3 milk and 1/3 extra virgin olive oil
  9. Poke a few holes in each loaf and then place on stovetop on medium-high heat
  10. Cooking time will vary depending on how many loaves are in the pan and the amount of liquid, but it will be approximately an hour and a half.  No need to stir the liquid as the olive oil will keep it from burning.
  11. Turn the loaves over at 45 minutes. If sauce has evaporated add more milk.
  12. Turkey meatloaves cooking in milk and olive oil
  13. Loaves will be close to done when liquid thickens. At that point cover the pan and turn off the burner
Le Velette's Grechetto
Notes:  You can make more loaves than needed for the meal and freeze them uncooked.  This recipe is easy to adjust and make more if you want to have some ready for another dinner.  
When ready to eat, remove from the freezer, cover with milk and olive oil and cook according to the above directions.
You can substitute other meat types such as ground veal, chicken, pork or beef. Cecilia only recommends beef or turkey, those are her favorites for this recipe.
The finished product!

Pesche all' Ameretto Baked Peach Italian Dessert

  • 7 big peaches, washed (1/2 per person)
  • 7 eggs (or 1 egg for every peach), separate and just use yolks
  • 1/2 TBS sugar per egg
  • Box of dry Amaretti cookies (crumble one cookie for each peach + additional if needed)
  • Bottle of semi-sweet white wine (1/4 cup for every 7 peaches)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Wash and cut peaches in half.  Remove and discard the pit
  3. Use a small measuring spoon to scrape out where the pit was being careful not to break the peach
  4. Arrange the peaches cut side up in an oven- proof baking dish
  5. Separate eggs into whites and yolks.  Use the whites for another recipe or discard.  Keep the yolks in a bowl.
  6. Add 1/2 TBS sugar for each egg to the bowl and whisk with "lots of energy."
  7. Add approx. 1/4 cup semi-sweet wine for 7 peaches
  8. Crumble one amaretti cookie per peach into the bowl and continue to whisk.
  9. Adjust if necessary with a few extra cookies if the mixture needs to be thickened.
  10. Next fill the peach holes evenly with the mixture.
  11. Sprinkle each peach with sugar.
  12. Drizzle semi-sweet white wine over each peach (generously) and on the bottom of the pan
  13. Put dish of peaches uncovered into the preheated oven for 40-60 minutes (bigger peaches will take longer)
  14.  Remove from oven and serve hot
FloJo and Ro taking it all in in

Le Velette's Rasenna semi-sweet white

Pasta con Capperi in Salsa Rossa  Pasta with Spicy Red Caper Sauce
14 servings

3 cloves of garlic
Penne, ziti, rigatoni or any short pasta (better to grab and hold the pasta)
Whole 6 oz jar of salted capers (rinsed and drained)
3 dried peppercinos (small red Italian peppers)
4 cans (14.5 oz) of diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley (chopped)
3/4 cup olive oil 
Kenna approves- thumbs up!

Dana and Cindy
  1. Put entire jar of capers in a colander and rinse
  2. Place capers on a cutting board and finely chop until each caper is broken
  3. Mince 3 garlic cloves in with capers
  4. Put olive oil into a large pot and heat on high heat
  5. Add capers and garlic to the oil
  6. Break peppercinos in half (recommend putting gloves on and don't touch eyes after handling peppers)
  7.  Add peppers to the hot oil in the pan and stir the peppers
  8. Remove stems from the parsley and snip with scissors
  9. Add parsley to hot oil and peppers and stir.  If needed add just a little bit more olive oil.
  10. Once parsley has cooked down add the four cans of diced tomatoes to the pan
  11. Stir and then let simmer on med head for 20-25 minutes
  12. While sauce is simmering put a large pot of water onto boil (do not add salt to the water)
  13. Once the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package (minus 1 minute)
  14. When the pasta has cooked, drain it in a colander
  15. Then add the pasta to the completed tomato sauce in a large pan (like a paella pan) so it can marinate for approx. 1 minute on medium heat
  16. Do not serve this pasta with any cheese on top
Note: Never add additional salt because the capers already have enough salt in them

Wine Pairing Suggestions of Cecilia:
Pasta:  A nice Rosé to cut the acidity of the tomato sauce
Turkey Meatloaf: A semi-sweet white
Dessert:  semi-sweet white

Finally, after the prep work, watching the food cook (for what seemed to be forever as the amazing smells wafted through the kitchen) and a few desperate attempts by the villa's adopted cat "gato" to come join us for dinner, we were at last, ready to eat.  

We started with the pasta as the first course and the Monaldesco Rose was a surprising pairing for most of us, but as Cecilia explained, it matched the acidity in the tomato sauce.  Next we ate the incredibly succulent turkey meatloaf with a rustic typical Orvietto white wine Grechetto.  We made room for the baked peach and amaretto dessert which paired very well with Le Velette's Rasenna a semi-sweet white.

Before dinner was over we thanked Cecilia for her excellent teaching and more importantly for her patience with fourteen chatty and by the end of the evening very wild women.  However, she left before things got really rowdy. We had a great time spending the evening with this entertaining woman who would give Giada De Laurentiis a run for her money if she ever came to America (Cecilia's Italian pronunciations are dead on).  

We presented Cecilia with a bottle of 2004 Miscela (Italian for blend) from one of our favorite WA wineries Nota Bene Cellar.  We hugged and sang a round of Simon and Garfunkel's Cecilia before saying ciao to our cooking maestro for the evening. 
Ro, Cecilia w/ the Note Bene wine and FloJo

Ro, Karri, Tracie, Betsy and Dana
D and J
We had a reunion dinner in Seattle the month after returning from Italy.  Janine and Daisy played the role of  hostsesses for the evening.  They recreated the above recipes half a world away from where we were taught by Cecilia.  It was fun having the same dishes again and knowing that Janine and Daisy had been listening during cooking school.   

We had a great time reminiscing about our time in Italy, the upcoming election and catching up with on each other's lives.  It's amazing how food can bring us together at one table to toast (as we learned in Italy always look the person you are chinking with in the eye or you'll bare children) to good friends and good times.

To view a video of Cecilia's cooking school click this link.
Live life with flavor and fun!

Betsy and Ro


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